Economy

Lebanon donor conference exceeds aid target, warns country's leaders

By Al-Mashareq and AFP

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Lebanese army helicopters release smoke in the colours of the national flag during a flyover by the damaged grain silos at the port of Beirut on August 4, during a remembrance ceremony on the first anniversary of the blast that ravaged the port and the city. [Patrick Baz/AFP]

PARIS -- An international donor conference collected about $370 million in urgent aid for Lebanon on Wednesday (August 4), including $100 million in additional aid from the United States and promises of "substantial aid in kind" from donors.

The pledge exceeds an initial target set by French President Emmanuel Macron of at least $350 million in emergency aid from participants.

But as world leaders dug into their pockets to help, they said Lebanon's leaders needed to do better in dealing with the fallout from the massive August 2020 blast that claimed hundreds of lives in Beirut.

"I think that Lebanese leaders... owe their people the truth and transparency," Macron told the conference, which coincided with the anniversary of the disaster.

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French President Emmanuel Macron attends the Lebanon donors' conference, gathering online representatives of international institutions and heads of state, one year after the Beirut port blast, on August 4. [Christophe Simon/Pool/AFP]

The explosion brought an already stuttering economy closer to the brink of collapse, and fuel, medicine and food have grown scarce in Lebanon as political parties bicker over the makeup of a new government.

This has in turn held up a much-needed international bailout.

Macron kicked off donor pledges with a promise of close to €100 million ($118 million) in French aid and a donation of 500,000 COVID-19 vaccine shots.

But he had stern words for Lebanon's leaders, accusing them of "deliberately letting things fester" and putting their "individual, partisan interests above the interests of the Lebanese people".

Announcing the US pledge, US President Joe Biden said "no amount of outside assistance will ever be enough if Lebanon's leaders do not commit to do the hard but necessary work of reforming the economy and combating corruption".

"It's essential. It has to start now," Biden said. "There's no time to waste. You know it. We are there to help if you do it."

Two aid conferences in 2020 raised $331 million in emergency relief.

While that aid was unconditional, the conference warned the international community would not endorse a bigger rescue plan until Lebanon has a new government that is committed to tackling corruption and undertaking reforms.

"The provision of structural economic and financial assistance will require profound changes by the Lebanese political leaders," the conference's final statement said.

'Avoidable crisis'

The European Union said last week it was ready to impose sanctions on members of the ruling elite who obstruct attempts to improve governance and public sector accountability.

France has barred several Lebanese officials from its territory already, without publicly naming them.

One of the chief demands of the Lebanese population and the international community has been that top officials be investigated over the warehouse fire that triggered the port blast.

"I send my deepest condolences to all those who were injured and lost loved ones and all those still struggling to recover from this trauma," Biden said.

"We also recognise that the people of Lebanon have suffered more over the past year because of avoidable political and economic crisis."

Many Lebanese claim Iran-backed Hizbullah is at the root of the country's problems, blaming it for Lebanon's seeming inability to pull itself out of crisis.

The party, which continues to exercise control over the political decision-making process, is designated a terror organisation by the United States and some European countries.

Its entrenchment in Lebanon is considered to be the main reason why talks with the International Monetary Fund have stalled, blocking a key lifeline.

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Everybody says they want to help, but unfortunately, we aren't seeing anything.

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